Store charging restocking fee on undelivered merchandise

Dear Consumer Ed:

I ordered a sofa from an online furniture company. The sofa was supposedly shipped, but we never received it. The company does not know where it is and cannot provide any tracking information. They have agreed to cancel this order and refund our money, but they want to charge a restocking fee. Can they do that?

Consumer Ed says:

In Georgia, companies are allowed to set their own policies regarding refunds and exchanges, including those related to “restocking fees”. Restocking fees have become increasingly common in our online marketplace and are typically charged to recoup various costs associated with a product return, such as shipping costs and repacking costs. They may also be charged to compensate a company for the reduced selling price that they may charge other customers for a returned product. But, as with any material term, the company must clearly and conspicuously disclose the existence of these charges to the customer before the purchase becomes final.

However, while the collection of these fees is permissible, there may be circumstances where a company should not enforce such a fee, or where charging it would be illegal. Although state laws vary, restocking fees are generally unfair or deceptive if:  they are being charged in connection with the return of defective merchandise; they are being charged because the company delivered the wrong merchandise; they are being charged because the company failed to deliver the merchandise within the promised time period; they exceed 50% of the purchase price of the merchandise; or the restocking fees are not adequately disclosed to the customer. In brief, when the company makes the mistake, they should not pass the cost of the mistake onto the customer.

Since, in your case, the company failed to deliver the sofa to you at all – let alone within the promised time period – you likely should not be responsible for a restocking fee.  In a situation where the company may be charging unfair restocking fees, there are several options.  First, if the fee was charged to your credit card you can try to dispute the charge with your credit card company.  Second, you could submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau to see if they can help mediate the situation between you and the company.  Finally, you can submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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